What’s the Difference Between Roasting and Baking?

updated Oct 16, 2023
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Golden-brown roasted chicken in cast iron pan.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Roasting and baking are both common cooking methods. Perhaps you’ve baked chicken breasts, roasted a whole chicken or a mix of root vegetables, or at the very least enjoyed a slice of baked cake. But do you know the difference between them?

These terms are used interchangeably quite often. What sets them apart? Are roasting and baking actually the same thing?

Quick Overview

Key Differences Between Roasting & Baking

  • Structure of the food: This is the primary factor that sets these cooking methods apart. Roasting involves cooking foods that already have a set structure before the cooking process begins, like most meats and vegetables. During the baking process, ingredients that lack structure early on meld, merge, or solidify.
  • Temperature: Typically, roasting requires a higher temperature (400°F and above) to create a browned, flavorful “crust” on the outside of the food being cooked. Baking generally occurs at lower oven temperatures, up to 375°F.
  • Fat content: Many baked goods contain fats like oils or butter. An outer coating of fat, such as olive oil brushed atop vegetables or meat, is an indicator of roasting.
  • Covered pan: Roasting is typically done in an open, uncovered pan, while items that are baked may be covered.

What’s the Difference Between Roasting and Baking?

Though many people often use the words “roast” and “bake” interchangeably, these two cooking methods differ in a few different areas. Overall, the processes of roasting and baking commonly involve varying levels of texture, oven temperatures, and fat content. Additionally, though it is not a technical requirement, savory dishes (think roast chicken or vegetables) are often referred to as being “roasted,” whereas sweets, pastries, and desserts prepared in the oven are typically associated with the term “baking.”

What Is Roasting?

Roasting is a type of dry heat cooking method. It exposes food to a relatively high heat, usually 400°F or above, for a long period of time to create a browned, flavorful exterior (think: crispy turkey skin and crusty bread). While it technically can be done over an open flame, most roasting today occurs in an uncovered pan or on a rack set in a roasting pan in the oven.

Roasting recipes to try:

What Is Baking?

Baking also uses dry, hot air to cook food, with temperatures usually up to 375°F. Unlike roasting, however, baking requires an enclosed space for its ingredients to integrate and form a finished product that typically looks quite different than what went into the oven.

Baking recipes to try:

Which Method Is Right for Your Recipe?

If you’re cooking food that has a solid structure — like any type of meat or vegetables — no matter the temperature of the oven, you’ll roast it.

If you’re cooking food that doesn’t already have a solid structure, but will after it’s cooked — like muffins, cake, bread, and casseroles — the proper method is baking.

Simple enough, right?